Erstwhile Brushes with Greatness (in a Manner of Speaking)

You’ve probably heard about Six Degrees of Separation or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon.  It hinges on the assumption that any individual involved in the film industry can be linked through his or her movie roles to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps.  And you can apply this to other well-known personages as well.  So, I decided to try to apply this to people I know who know other people who might know someone famous and see if I could accomplish the feat in less than six steps.  I was trying to determine the measure of my proximity to fame one day while sitting in traffic and I let my mind wander.  Yes, you guessed it — I amuse myself in strange ways.

I have a tie to President Jimmy Carter.  I know Reverend Tom Owen-Towle; he wrote the Foreword to my first book, Did Jesus Have a Cat?  Through him I’ve met his wife, Reverend Carolyn Owen-Towle.  She has met Jimmy Carter and spent time with him in Plains, GA.  I also know Phil Borden.  He also met and spent time with both Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.  So, that means, then, that I have ties to all the diplomats and heads of state that Jimmy Carter ever met – Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, and others.  I had a cousin by marriage (Jesse was married to my first cousin, Thelma) who was in the Navy (a lifer) and he worked at the Pentagon for a period of time on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  During his assignment there, he worked on the Panama Canal treaty and had many meetings at the White House with Jimmy Carter related to that undertaking.  Wow!  I am more connected to Jimmy Carter than I ever realized.  And that means all my friends are connected too, in less than six steps.  Hey, this game really works.

I have a tie to the Dalai Lama.  I attended a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly in Minneapolis in June, 2010.  I met UUA President Peter Morales there.  And, I know several UU ministers who have met and worked with Peter Morales.  Peter Morales has met with the Dalai Lama.  Quod Erat Demonstrandum or QED (Latin for “so it is demonstrated).

I have a tie to Mother Theresa.  My mother’s first cousin, Fr. Fergus Lickteig, a Carmelite priest, travelled to India several years ago and visited the motherhouse where Mother Theresa lived.  She was not there are the time, unfortunately, as she was travelling elsewhere in Europe.  But, he met some of the other nuns living there at her convent and related details of his visit to me and my mother upon his return.  QED.

I have a tie to Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), the iconic writer of children’s books.  When I was young, my Aunt Josephine worked as a housekeeper and cook for a family in San Diego County and they were friends with Theodor Geisel.  She told of a dinner party to which he was invited and she cooked and served him dinner.  QED.

I have a tie to the famous football coach Vince Lombardi.  When I was the Publicity Chair for the annual Western Claim Conference in Palm Desert several years ago, I recruited his son Vince Lombardi Jr. as our keynote speaker.  After his own involvement with the Packers, he hit the lecture circuit as a motivational speaker.  I spent several hours over a two-day period, playing hostess, making sure he had all the amenities he required, introducing him from the dais, and making pleasant conversation.  And so I am connected to his father, the great Green Bay Packers coach and wise mentor to many.  QED.  Gosh, this is getting more and more interesting.

I have a tie to Dr. Thomas Noguchi.  That, then, ties me to Natalie Wood and Senator Robert Kennedy (and that connects me to his brother John F. Kennedy).  Dr. Noguchi performed both autopsies – Robert Kennedy’s and Natalie Wood’s .  Dr. Noguchi was once the Los Angeles County Coroner and came to be known as “Coroner to the Stars” during his time in that position; the appellation came with a bit of derision and he became fodder for late night comedians.  Back in the 1980s when I was the Vice President of the Los Angeles Life and Accident Claim Association, I spoke to Dr. Noguchi during dinner at one of our monthly meetings.  We had invited him to speak as the featured guest at our meeting.  We frequently had coroners speak to our members in connection with life insurance investigations and how a coroner’s findings could be used to corroborate or dispute a claim, in situations involving natural death vs. murder or murder vs. suicide.  Such forensic findings might make a difference in payment or non-payment of a claim, or the amount of money awarded as a death benefit.  As I talked with Dr. Noguchi over dinner, he told me of his recent activities, including books he had written, a recent novel in which a character appears who resembles him, a forensic pathologist.  He mentioned he was technical advisor to the “Quincy” television show, starring Jack Klugman.  He was also involved with fund-raising to establish a forensic pathology library at the USC School of Medicine.  He told me earnestly that all his pursuits had to do with forensic medicine; he said he was completely committed to his profession.  And he also shared with me that he had recently taken up oil painting.

So, trying to keep up my end of the conversation, I told Dr. Noguchi that I understood how the “Quincy” show and his mystery novel related to forensic pathology, and also the library he was hoping to expand at USC.  “But, Dr. Noguchi,” I said, “I don’t understand how your interest in oil painting relates to forensic medicine.”  “Aah,” he replied in heavily accented English, “aw my painting have dead body.”  Well, that pretty much shut me up.  Silly me – I had to ask.

I have a bit of a tie to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. too.  Reverend Tom Owen-Towle, mentioned above, participated in the Selma March in 1965.  He was a seminarian then and he was involved in that effort with other seminarians during that time.  During the first part of the week of the Selma march, the seminarians were responsible for clearing fields in preparation for the marchers to camp each night of the week.  They cleared designated empty fields of rocks and debris so the areas could be used as makeshift camp grounds later on.  Then he and all the other seminarians marched into Montgomery the final day, with Dr. King.  QED yet again.

I have a connection to Louis Armstrong, the famous Satchmo.  Several years ago I made the acquaintance of Harriett and George Marois.  George plays the trumpet and over the years has played with many musicians and many bands.  At one time when he was younger he and his friends played with Louis Armstrong and I listened to him tell tales of Louis Armstrong coming to his home to jam with him and his cronies.  QED.

I have a link to the infamous and colorful Yogi Berra.  I know Bob Meyer, a member of my same Unitarian Universalist congregation in Mission Viejo.  Bob used to play professional baseball.  In his career, he played for the Yankees when Yogi Berra was the manager.  Bob also played for some other teams and played with, and against, quite a number of big sports names.  QED.

I am connected to the previous Poet Laureate of the US, Kay Ryan.  She was poet laureate in 2008 through 2010.  She and I went to the same high school in Lancaster, CA – Antelope Valley High School.  We had a class together our Senior year (1962-1963), an Anatomy and Physiology class taught by Mr. Harold Huffman.  Back then, her name was Kay Pedersen.  I remember her well.  She was very ebullient and funny.  My gosh – just one step!

 

Oddly, I have a link to the famous Black Dahlia murder case in Los Angeles in the 1940s.  This was the mysterious murder of Elizabeth Short, a case never solved, possibly the most famous cold case in the history of the LAPD.  My parents told me they knew one of the many policemen who worked on the case.  They said it haunted him, changed him.  Only two steps.  Spooky.

Believe it or not, I even have a tie to Amelia Earhart.  When my father was in the Marines in the 1940s, he knew a fellow Marine named Dean Spencer.  Dean Spencer was friends with the famous aviatrix Pancho Barnes (Florence Lowe Barnes).  I met Pancho Barnes when I was a child and I wrote about this visit in one of my other essays.  Pancho, as she was nicknamed, knew Amelia Earhart.  They were contemporaries in the early days of flying, when women were starting to become pilots and engage in record setting flights.  So through my father and Dean Spencer, I am connected to Pancho and hence to Amelia Earhart.  QED.

I have some connections to the movies and film industry of the 40s through my father and Dean Spencer as well.  Dean Spencer was a stunt pilot as was Pancho Barnes in those early days of film.  Through the Dean Spencer connection I’m probably connected to Franchot Tone, Howard Duff, Ida Lupino, Clark Gable and all sorts of legends, now that I think about it.  I remember my father telling stories of his time as a film extra.  He appeared in a lot of battle and cavalry scenes where they needed men who could hold rifles and handle them convincingly without looking awkward.  Hence, many men from his Marine Corps reserve unit were employed as extras.  It was fascinating listening to my father relate tales of how he had fought in the Civil War, on both sides, in a single film.  They would shoot one scene of the extras wearing grey uniforms; and then they would change costumes, and the cameras would shoot footage of the same men from a different angle wearing blue uniforms.  Aah, Hollywood.

So what exactly have I proved?  Probably not much, except that I am an inveterate name dropper given to sprinkling my conversations with stories about famous folks in order to make myself look more esteemed in the eyes of my friends.  Perhaps this means I am insecure – but let’s not get off track.  I see that I did manage to impress myself with my diverse connections over time.  I guess if you get out into the world enough, out from under your proverbial rock, you can meet all sorts of people and establish a great many links.  As my father would have said, “It just shows to go ya.”  And, I’ve proved that this trivia game of Six Degrees really works.  I didn’t think there was much to it until I started actually trying out the connections.  So, try it yourself.  It is fun, especially at social gatherings.  And you might be surprised at how many connections you can make through friends and acquaintances.  QED.  Alas, though, I still haven’t managed to make the Kevin Bacon connection.  But I’m working on it!

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About Connie

Connie Pursell is a baby boomer and a technical writer in the world of healthcare claims. Did Jesus Have a Cat? is her first book of essays. Connie misquotes Shakespeare: “Some are born quirky, some achieve quirkiness, and some have quirkiness thrust upon them.” She thinks she was born quirky but didn’t find her voice or full quirky potential until her later years. She grew up in Lancaster, California and earned a BA and an MA in English from Cal State University, Long Beach. In addition to essays, she also writes poetry – a couple of poems are included in the book. She is active in volunteer activities, makes beaded jewelry and lives in Laguna Niguel, CA with her three cats.